In the eighteenth episode of the fifth season of Steven Universe, I need help. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For continued discussion of trauma/PTSD, war, slavery, consent, colonization.
I don’t know what to do with this. I genuinely don’t. Like, I’m used to Steven Universe delivering shockers and plot twists, or messing with the audience, or subverting tropes that I’m so familiar with that I expect them. But this is… what the hell, y’all? What the hell did this show do? This isn’t just shaking things up. This WHOLE SHOW got re-written, and I am not sure that I like it? I can’t say I have definitive feelings on it yet, but how? How was this the truth the whole time? And it’s not even that it doesn’t fit or that it’s impossible that this was what the show always planned. But… doesn’t this change the entire meaning of Rose Quartz AND Steven Universe?
See, about halfway through this, I was doing that thing I do where I’m composing a review in my head. “A Single Pale Rose,” while heavy-handed in its metaphor, still managed to visually produce a manifestation of compartmentalization, and y’all. I. Loved. It. A LOT. Those of use who have experienced trauma, and those of us who have to deal with PTSD as a result, might be very familiar with what we see onscreen here. In order for me to make it through the world—and often, to just be able to function on a day-to-day basis—I have to compartmentalize. I have to trick my brain into not consciously thinking about some of the terrible shit I’ve experienced. On days when this doesn’t happen, which almost always coincides with being triggered, my whole day can come to a grinding halt. So, I cope, and my brain has stashed things away that take a lot to dredge up.
There’s still an element of that here in this episode, but I don’t even know if that intent is fully realized with the big twist at the end. Yes, I’m sure that Pearl was traumatized by this war, but my theory from “Can’t Go Back” isn’t what actually happened. Pearl didn’t kill anyone. And the only reason the memory of what Rose Quartz asked her to do is buried so deeply within Pearl is because it’s the last thing she required of her.
So… is that compartmentalization, or is it manipulation?
That’s the sort of complication I’m dealing with for the entire show. What scenes from the past now have a new, sinister meaning because of the reveal that Pink Diamond never died? How many moments from this war are a lie? Because it’s clear Amethyst and Garnet had no idea that Pink Diamond morphed into Rose Quartz, that one of the very Diamonds they were fighting was alongside them and responsible for starting the rebellion. (OH, JESUS, THE IMPLICATIONS FOR BISMUTH ARE EVEN MORE HORRIFYING NOW, GREAT. ROSE WAS SAYING IT WAS IMMORAL TO SHATTER A GEM AND THEN JUST FAKED ONE SO THEY COULD GET WHAT THEY WANT.) This lie has such far-reaching implications that I can’t even possibly think of them all. What changed? What made Pink Diamond abandon her desire to colonize Earth? Y’all, that means Rose Quartz is actually a colonizer who had a child with someone whose planet she was going to colonize. What the fuck? Steven is the product of the very fucking colonizer he’s fighting against?
And then there’s Pearl, who we learn LITERALLY COULD NOT DISOBEY PINK DIAMOND’S FINAL ORDER TO HER. I can’t possibly rank which one of these after-the-fact epiphanies upsets me more, but this is pretty far up there. Pink Diamond wanted to grant the Crystal Gems freedom to be who they are, to liberate them from the violent hierarchy of Homeworld. Why? Well, I’m hoping future episodes address this, because we don’t really know why Pink Diamond would go through a spiritual and physical transformation like this. I suppose there’s something interesting about one of the Diamonds rejecting Homeworld culture, but what does this mean for Pearl? How much of her love and adoration of Rose Quartz is due to the fact that Rose once owned her? Like, I don’t want to invalidate Pearl’s feelings, but like… holy shit, that’s her OWNER. And yes, Rose “freed” her of her servitude to her, but how are you gonna allow a relationship like the one they had to foster and grow?
Actually, let me take it a step further: is Pearl really free if, at the last second, Pink Diamond ordered Pearl not to ever tell the truth about her identity? Because that makes me so incredibly uncomfortable. You cannot grant someone freedom and then restrict their actions. In the end, Pearl cannot choose perhaps one of the most vital aspects of free will: telling the truth.
I’m upset. And perhaps all of this is going to be addressed in some manner. Hell, it needs to be. Where is the line between these two worlds? How does a person go from being a violent oppressor to the loving, accepting character we’ve known for five whole seasons? (And yes, Rose Quartz has been complicated due to various storylines, but that doesn’t mean we saw her as a villain.)
I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS AND IT’S GOING TO BE A MILLION YEARS UNTIL THEY’RE ANSWERED.
The video for “A Single Pale Rose” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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